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"everyday matters magazine -- severn covenant church -- ben carson -- men -- emotions --

 
 

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e v e r y d a y    i s s u e s    f o r    e v e r y d a y    p e o p l e


( the complete interview, with bonus material below )
 


 

  When Benjamin Carson was in fifth grade, he was considered the "dummy" of his class. His classmates and teachers took it for granted that Ben would take an entire quiz without getting a single question right.

  He had a temper so violent that he would attack other children, even his mother, at the slightest provocation. "I was most likely to end up in jail, reform school, or the grave," he remembers.

  But Benjamin Carson turned his life around. He graduated from high school with honors, went on to Yale University and to medical school. At age 32, he became Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Children's Center (JHH) in Baltimore. He is internationally recognized as a pioneer in his field for separating twins joined at the back of the head. In his operation on the Binder Siamese twins in 1987, he succeeded where all predecessors had failed.

  Through his books and lectures, Dr. Carson willingly shares the story of his success with young people. In his own words: "You do have the possibility of controlling your own destiny if you are willing to put in the appropriate amount of time and effort." Or, as he tells young people everywhere, "Think Big” – DrBenCarson.com


Ben, fifth grade

  Join us now in a small conference room in his office at Johns Hopkins Hospital:

_____________________________________________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   EDM (Everyday Matters, Joel Freeman):  What was the moment when you first realized you wanted to do what you are doing today?

   Dr. Carson: I remember the moment that I first knew that I wanted to be a doctor.  It was in church and I was listening to a sermon about a missionary doctor.  The doctor was in some danger but he was still delivering great care to people in spite of the situation. It just seemed like this could be my calling. Doctoring has always been my main focus. The type of doctor has changed a few times – from a missionary doctor to a psychiatrist to a neurosurgeon.  When I became a neurosurgeon I prayed something like this, “Lord, I did have this feeling that You wanted me to have an outreach to people. You know neurosurgeons are people who stay in the laboratories and they really don’t have a lot of interaction with society. You can help me to have a lot of interaction with people. You know You can do anything, in spite of me being a neurosurgeon. So I leave it in Your hands.” (laughter)  And of course He gave me a much bigger outreach than I ever would have had as a missionary.

   EDMHow old were you when this happened?

   Dr. Carson: I was 8 years old. And from that point on I began to think in terms of medicine.  I never really considered any other options and even during the time I was a terrible student, I still thought I was going to be a doctor. Somehow magically I was going to be a doctor one day.


  Dr. Carson in surgery

   EDMDid you go to the library and read books and get books out about this?  Are there any books that impacted you during those early years?

   Dr. Carson:  Well, when I was a particularly bad student my mother turned off the TV and made us start reading books.  One of the early books that I read was called Up from Slavery.  It was the autobiography of Booker T. Washington.  How he was born a slave and still learned to read. He read every book in sight and became an advisor to Presidents. So I started reading a lot of books about animals and science.  I just got very interested in the whole concept of science and mathematics and technological things.  In high school studies I started getting involved in science fairs and started working in the science laboratories.  I just basically steered my life in that direction.  

 I did have other interests as well. I was in the school band. In fact, I was pretty good with the baritone and actually won a scholarship to Interlaken, the prestigious music camp. I would have been the first such scholarship winner from my school ever.  The day after the announcement, the band director came to me and said “Don’t accept it.” (Even though it would have been a big feather in his cap.) He went on to say, “You are going to be a great doctor one day and I don’t want you to dilute your vision for this scholarship.” So I think all of the reading I did earlier in my life gave me the mindset I needed for that decision. I have come to understand that the person who has the most to do with you and your future is you. We can’t blame our decisions on some other individual or point to some environmental thing.  It’s you and what you decide to do.

   EDM: In what ways do you regenerate yourself, renewing yourself in the midst of your crazy and hectic schedule?

   Dr. Carson: Regeneration comes from being able to relax. It starts with the drive home. As you know, we live out in the country. Going through the pastoral areas and the horses and everything out there it is very relaxing. I don’t bring work home with me. I come home and relax: play pool with my wife, look at the news, see what’s going on. And, of course, every night before I go to bed I spend time reading my Bible.

   EDMAre there any unexplainable events in your life and are you comfortable talking about them?

   Dr. Carson:  There are many unexplainable events in my life...when I stop and look at my career.  I have had so many once in a lifetime experiences that have happened to me, one unique experience right after another that was very quickly brought to the public eye. Honestly, I don’t believe that I’m much greater then any other neurosurgeon. It just seems to me that the deck got stacked in my favor. Some incredibly unusual cases and difficult things came along and I was in the right place at the right time. Good people and good institutions helped me. I feel that maybe it was all in order to provide me with a platform from which to do much greater things than I could ever accomplish in the operating room and that’s to effect people’s lives.

 I spoke at twelve graduations this year. Seven of them were medical schools.  I’m having the opportunity to affect the lives of many people – even at the elementary, middle and high school levels – through our scholarship programs and our Reading Rooms and the many public lectures that I do. There are just so many opportunities to have a positive impact on society. I think I’ve had to have all these things happen in order to provide the credibility to do all these other things and more.

   EDMDescribe yourself in five words or less.

   Dr. Carson: Extraordinarily grateful to God.

   EDM:  What part does gratitude play in your life?

   Dr. Carson: To me gratitude means that every day and every hour instead of complaining about things, instead of saying, “Poor me,” and instead of thinking about the problems I may have on any given day…I’m grateful.  Just saying, “So what if I have a flat tire? At least I have a car. (laughter) So what if I am hungry! At least I know I have a place where I can go and eat.” It really doesn’t matter what the thing is because it could be so much worse. That’s really the attitude that gratitude gives you. It gives you the glass-is-half-full mentality. That keeps you in a positive frame of mind. And when you are in a positive state of mind you can transmit that to other people


Playing pool with son

   EDM  You mentioned to me once that you have the greatest job in the world, which keeps you on an even keel and gives you perspective.

   Dr. Carson: One of the very nice things about being a doctor (particularly as a pediatric neurosurgeon) is when I walk out of my office on the ward I see and talk with people who are experiencing unimaginable problems. And I look at the affect it is having on the families and I look at their outlook and I realize I don’t have any problems. I mean compared to these people in these tough situations, I really have no problems at all. One of the things that really came home to me as an intern at Johns Hopkins in years past was walking out onto the wards and seeing many different people – a crown prince of this nation or king of that country, a president of that organization, or the CEO of a successful company – dying because of some malignant disease and recognizing that they would give up every penny and every title in exchange for a clean bill of health. When confronted by the pain in other people’s lives, it really brings home to you how incredibly blessed you are, especially if you have your health.

   EDMWhat’s the toughest question you have ever been asked?  How did you respond at the time and if you could respond again how do you respond now?

   Dr. Carson: I get asked a lot of questions. Perhaps one of the most difficult ones has been, “How do I view abortion?” It is not politically correct to be against abortion because everybody is supposed to have their rights, including a woman who is supposed to have the right to terminate the life of a baby. It is a difficult question because people tend to be so set in their opinions. But here’s how I respond to the question of abortion – “Is it alive?” Take an endoscope and put it into the uterus of a 20 week fetus and see a tiny creature moving about – reacting to stimuli, having eyes, a mouth, little fingers, the heart’s beating, and all kinds of things are going on. Tell me that’s not a living organism.  I just don’t buy it!

 There are a lot of people who say, “I agree with you. I think that it is wrong, and I would never have an abortion; but I don’t feel that I have the right to impose my feelings on other people.”  That may be the response of many people, but suppose the abolitionists had felt that way back in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Suppose they had said, “I’m not going to own any slaves. I really think that slavery is wrong, but if you want to own slaves…that’s fine.” If the abolitionists had had that attitude, where would we be now? We have to grapple with these great moral issues, and abortion is an important issue for our generation. You just can’t stick your head in the sand. 

   EDM: How do you balance your family life with everything else that is pulling at you?

Dr. Carson:  My family life is much easier to balance now because the kids are grown up.  (laughter) Before they were grown up I used to take them with me because I was on the road so often. I would take my mother, my kids, my wife; we all traveled as a group and that was my requirement.  If I was going someplace my whole family traveled with me.  So they had frequent flyer cards for every airline and have been all over the place and that’s great.  Last year I did twelve commencements, and my wife went with me to every single one of them. So we still get to have plenty of quality time together.  It just has to be a priority for you. My family is a priority for me. I always say where there is a will there is a way. If you want to be with somebody, you will find a way to do it. (laughter) Young people can relate to this when they first fall in love. They’re always trying to figure out how they can be together. “How can we arrange our schedules so that we can be with each other?”  In a good family situation that should be a continuing desire.

   EDMYou grew up in the projects in a single family home and you were surrounded by all the ingredients for failure, yet you were able to succeed.  Talk about the “victim mentality.” Did you ever feel like a victim, and, if so, how did you work your way through that?

   Dr. Carson:  My mother, who perhaps had the worst life imaginable, had been one of twenty four children, getting married at age thirteen, then finding out her husband was a bigamist, and being left with two small children to raise on her own.  But, she never felt sorry for herself.  She never developed a victim’s mentality.  She always said, “I can deal with this…I can do something about it.” Therefore she never let us develop it either.  If we ever came up with an excuse she always had the same response, “Do you have a brain? And if the answer to that is yes, then you could have thought your way out of it!” (laughter) It doesn’t really matter what anybody else says.  It doesn’t really matter what anybody else is doing.  When you grow up with a mother like that, it is pretty hard to become a victim and I think that is perhaps one on the greatest things she did for us because if you think you are a victim then you are.

   EDMI have talked to other successful African American men who have felt that they don’t fit into the “black stereotype,” whatever that is, and I was just wondering how you have stayed out of the mainstream as an activist and what kind of pressure you have felt from other African Americans?

   Dr Carson:  I really haven’t felt any pressure, quite frankly.  In 2006, I received the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP; the highest award that they give. Recently, I received the Ford Freedom Award by the African American History Museum in Detroit and the Ford Motor Company. And yet I wouldn’t consider myself an activist in the sense of being a racial activist. Frankly, I’ve gone way beyond that point. As a neurosurgeon operating on people from all over the world – when I open that skull and look at that brain, I can’t tell whether it’s a black brain, white brain, Asian brain or Hispanic brain. They are all the same.  That’s what makes you the person you are. Not the racial stuff.  That’s superfluous. It means absolutely nothing. I came to that realization a very long time ago. 

 Now that doesn’t mean that I don’t look at groups of individuals who are having particularly difficult times and trying to do something about it. It’s the very reason that we work so hard to put our Reading Rooms particularly in inner city schools because I recognize that 70% - 80% of high school drop outs are functionally illiterate.  If we can nip that in the bud and can get them interested reading in kindergarten, first grade, second grade, third grade you are going to have a positive effect of that down stream.  But I would do that whether the inner city people were black, white, yellow or polka dot.  It wouldn’t matter because that is what we are supposed to do.  That’s what we have been called to do. 


Dr. Carson accepting the Presidential Medal of
Freedom
, the highest award a US civilian can receive.

   EDMWhat would you say to young people reading this article about self image, self esteem, appearance, and success?

   Dr. Carson:  I would say that it’s extremely important to find out who you are. In order to do that you need to spend time using the greatest gift that you have. And that’s your brain. That means you talk to intelligent people, open your eyes, observe, and see what is happening around you. One of the things I recognized when I was a kid is the people that we admired were the drug dealers – they had the fancy cars with those big white side wall tires and had the chains and everything and they just looked so cool and they brought candy for us and we loved to see them coming – but I realized that none of them ever got old. And that was a huge negative reality.

 That’s why I say to young people, "Look at people. Look at where they are going.  Look at whether they are happy.  Look at whether they are fulfilled. Let those kinds of people be the ones that you emulate.  Look at all the strife that the so-called glamorous people get into – the unhappy lives. They might believe themselves to be living the lifestyle that everybody wants to emulate…but not really. Not if you stop and think about it.  Look at the people who make a difference in our society. Look at their lives, and then decide which one you want to be like."

   EDM: You are competent, with many skills and talents. What can you probably never do well? 

   Dr. Carson:  Well, that will require some real thinking. (laughter) It’s not pool! (more laughter) I think you can do virtually anything well if you practice at it.  But without practicing, I probably will never be a great golfer. (laughter)

   EDMWhat are you learning from your failures? 

   Dr. Carson:  I learn a lot of useful wisdom from failures.  Failures are great gifts to us.  Thomas Edison said he knew 999 ways the light bulb didn’t work. And of course we have cleaning formula 409 because the first 408 experiments didn’t work. You just have to learn from everything that happens. It changes my techniques in the operating room.  A lot of the techniques that I’ve developed came on the heels of failures. So when something happened that was untoward, the immediate questions are: “Why did that happen?” and “Is there something that I could have done differently?” That goes for every aspect of your life.  If you are married you have to say to yourself early on, “Why do we have so many conflicts?  What is the commonality here?”  After a while you start saying, “When I do this my spouse gets mad. (laughter) Why don’t I stop doing that?”  The good Lord gave us these brains so we could take all this stuff in and process it and somehow change our behavior.   

   EDMWhat do you envision yourself doing in retirement?

   Dr. Carson:  I don’t know if I will ever retire.  I mean I may stop practicing neurosurgery sometime in the next ten years but I will still be extraordinarily active on the speaking circuit. I’ll still be sitting on corporate boards. I’ll still be working extremely hard on my scholarship programs. I’ll still be involved with developing Reading Rooms, trying to change the educational environment and attitude in this country.  So I don’t think my activity level will slow down, just the kinds of things I do will change.

   EDMYou mentioned reading Booker T. Washington’s book at a very critical time in your life. What would you say is the most important book you have ever read and how has it influenced your perspective on life?


       Dr. Freeman & Dr. Carson

   Dr. Carson:  That’s an easy one to answer. That would be the Bible, specifically the book of Proverbs.  That’s what I start each day with and end each day with.  There is so incredibly much wisdom in there and it was the thing that profoundly changed me as a teenager – when I began to read in the book of Proverbs the description of a fool. It sounded just like me, and I decided that I didn’t want to be a fool. I’m going to stop living the life of a fool. One of the things the book of Proverbs talked about was how fools think they know everything and they don’t listen. And I remember saying to myself at a young age, “You know what? I’m going to listen. I’m really going to listen to my mother.  I’m going to listen to what she says.” Reading the Bible has made a huge difference in the way I have lived my life, and it continues to impact me on a daily basis.

   EDMWhat gives you hope for the future when things seem to be going wrong, let’s say with an operation, the world at large, or a relationship, or something like that?

   Dr. Carson:  The thing that gives me the most hope is the human brain.  Knowing that we can learn from the present and the past and we can project that into the future. I combine that with the fact that I know that God is in control. It says in the book of Romans that if God be for you who can be against you?  So I really don’t find myself fretting about a lot of things because I know He is in control. He can control virtually any situation, and I can’t. But I also know that God loves me and it is a wonderful feeling to know that the most powerful individual in the universe loves you and cares about you every moment of every day. It gives us great confidence.

   EDM: You have a passion for giving scholarships to young people for their college education with a foundation developed for that purpose. How difficult has it been to create and maintain such a foundation without getting discouraged?

   Dr. Carson:  Nine out of ten non-profit foundations fail. The ones that succeed are the ones that have people with real passion who are able to persevere through all challenges that cause so many to fail. No foundations have smooth sailing. It is also very important to make sure that you have some like-minded people working with you – people who are just as committed and dedicated to it as you are. Our foundation would have never survived if we did not have board members, staff, volunteers, and other people who believe in it as much as we do.

 At one point, one of our board members, a lawyer, was working full time at the foundation (40 plus hours a week) for nothing, because we didn’t have an executive director at that time. What a tremendous sacrifice for her to do that! Not only that, but others also poured a ton of money into the organization when things were desperate, looking like the entire organization was about to fold. They put out challenge grants to develop all kinds of programs; and now, the foundation is in very good shape. But on the ground floor you must have the kind of people who are just as passionate as you are about helping others. Others who donated huge amounts of in-kind services, went out and beat the bushes and got people that they know involved. It’s a lot of hard work. You can’t do it all by yourself.


Twins to be separated

   EDM: Are you involved in a local church in your area, and how important do you think it is for the family?

   Dr. Carson:  Yes I am involved in a local church.  It’s very important to me because we discuss all kinds of very relevant issues and difficult problems that one might face.  I get all kind of ideas for a lot of my speeches (laughter) from these discussions that we have in church.  I wouldn’t miss it. I mean, it’s just wonderful.  Could I survive with out it? I probably could, but I wouldn’t want to. I always look forward to the fellowship with like-minded people.

   EDMOne final question. What is your definition of success?

   Dr. Carson: God has given everyone at least one talent. Success is taking the talent(s) that God has given you and using all that to elevate other people. It has nothing to do with houses, cars, bank accounts, and jewels. When all is said and done, all that other peripheral stuff means absolutely nothing. But what does mean something is the positive impact you have on the people around you. Has your life meant anything, or was it just a waste of everybody else’s time and energy? It is important to move forward with perspective. If you have a small head, you’re probably not going to amount to very much. If you get the big head, you’re going to have the big fall. But if you view yourself as an instrument in God’s hands, you’ll accomplish a lot more than you could ever imagine.

Full interview was conducted by Dr. Joel Freeman, with help from Nelson Anderson and Darryl Colbert.
Transcription of interview was done by Cindy Zuby.

Part of the introduction to the interview came from Dr. Carson bio listed on www.achievement.org
 


The Carson Scholars Fund, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit charity that was founded in 1994, by Dr. Benjamin Carson and his wife, Candy, to recognize and reward students in grades 4-11 who strive for academic excellence (3.75 GPA or higher) and demonstrate a strong commitment to their community. The scholarships are awarded without regard to race, creed, religion or financial need. Scholarships are awarded for attendance at four-year colleges and universities upon the student's graduation from high school. Since its inception the Carson Scholars Fund has awarded over 3,400 scholarships. They have scholars in 26 states. Approximately 90 cents of every dollar contributed, goes directly to support the educational initiatives –
CarsonScholars.org
 



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Bonus Material ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
from DrBenCarson.com


   Q. What has your work as a brain surgeon taught you about God and faith?

   A. Every time I look into the human brain, I am astounded by its intricate complexities and think about how incredibly smart our Creator is. Whether I am gazing into a baby's head, or up at the stars at night, I sense God's presence and the mind-boggling complexity of the universe - so precise one can set one's watch by it. I see a brilliant and logical God. With every patient and every surgery, I am struck by the miracle of life and the miracles possible within it. I have seen children die, in spite of what we do, and live, despite the odds against them.

  Whatever the outcome, I see God as One who wants the best from us, and asks us always to trust Him. In the end, I am just a brain surgeon and can not know everything. I do believe we need to realize God is in control.

  When I must leave a surgery and talk with parents, whatever I have to tell them, I remember wise King Solomon who wrote so many years ago 'Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.' (Proverbs 3:5) I find myself refreshed and fortified in knowing that I am not alone.

   Q. Who is your favorite Biblical role model?

   A. Joseph, from the book of Genesis. He consistently made the most of whatever life tossed him. Instead of accepting the victim role when his jealous brothers sold him into slavery, Joseph determined to be the best slave he could be. Later, when falsely accused and thrown in prison, he still refused to be a victim, and determined to be the best prisoner possible. Soon he was an overseer, and from there on, by always doing his best at anything life handed him, became prime minister of the most powerful nation on earth, with the power to influence many lives in a positive way. He could have given up. He could have said "poor me." Instead, he became a victor.

  When I was growing up, role models - others who had overcome adversity in their lives - were easier to find in society. They were in the literature of the day, and even in media and the movies. All the stories I read about orphans, and pioneers, and those down on the luck who made good, were inspirational for me, and I just determined to be one of those who overcame my obstacles.

   Q. What is your daily devotional routine?

   A.  Every morning I read from the Bible. The book of Proverbs, written by King Solomon, is my favorite. (Perhaps this it is not surprising, given that my middle name is Solomon - Benjamin Solomon Carson.) I set aside time to thank God for what I have, and to ask Him for the strength and wisdom to lead my day and life as he would choose for me. I pray before every surgery, and afterwards.

___________________________________________________

   A committed Christian, Dr. Carson places the values of God and family above all other considerations in his life. He turns for guidance to the word of God, and to his family and church community for strength and the moral compass to keep steady in his endeavors and at peace.

   Dr. Ben Carson praises God for his accomplishments in life. God, he says, can take people from any circumstances and "make them into anything." He cites his life as living proof of one's ability to overcome obstacles, with determination and the help of and faith in God.

   Carson prays and reads the Bible every day, praying as well before every surgery. God, he says, seeks to empower human beings. To know God's will, and benefit from his guidance, one must enter into a relationship with Him.

   In interviews with the media, in his books, and before audiences, he thanks and praises God for his abilities to help children and their families. His hand-eye coordination, essential for a brain surgeon, is but a gift from God, he says, but one he was fortunate to discover and develop. He calls upon all individuals to search for their callings in life, and to seek answers and strength in God.

Here's an additional message from Dr. Carson:

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